In preparation for our upcoming session, I recommend reading through the content on this page and checking the links at the bottom. Fear not -- it will only take about 10-15 minutes, but it is important background for our session. I look forward to meeting you there! Regards, Adrienne
Adrienne E. White, M.A.
The Triune Brain
This view of the human brain was brought about by a researcher named Paul MacLean. Each segment of our brain works in concert, but to better understand the human reaction process, it helps to understand each segment individually. To be clear, this is not an exhaustive explanation of our brain's structure, but will give you the background necessary for our session.
The Reptilian System / Brainstem:
Yes, this is the part of the brain that we have in common with reptiles. It is the oldest part of the brain and is the core of our nervous system. From this area of the brain we witness:
Pure survival instinct
Flight, flight or freeze
Reaction point when under perceived threat (aka: threat response)
This part of the brain is highly resistant to change. From this most primitive part of the brain (or lower level of consciousness) we see behaviours that include:
Tribal/social hierarchy/power struggle
You know that expression "Think before you act"? Well, it is an important reminder because physiologically, the first part of our brain to react is the oldest part of our brain -- not our thinking brain.
The Limbic System:
The limbic system holds our emotional life and long term memory. It is also the central point for:
Autonomic nervous system
Have you ever walked into a room and sensed that there was tension between the people who were already in the room? If so, that was your limbic system at work.
It is thanks to this part of the brain that we have language, decision making and planning capabilities, and conscious thought. Reactions from this, the thinking part of our brain, take longer than from the reptilian or limbic systems. This higher functioning part of the brain:
Can be adaptive
Integrates of all sensory inputs
And it is an energy hog.
In fact, the front part of the neocortex (our pre-frontal cortex) is said to use 40% of the brain's total energy resources.
That's Nice -- But So What?
Often in life we try to understand our own reactions, or the reaction of others. Sometimes a simple understanding of how these three parts of the brain work together can be just as helpful as a session on the couch.
If you recall, the first part of the brain to instinctually react is our lowest form of consciousness -- the reptilian system. Then the limbic system kicks in, and finally the neocortex assesses the input from the reptilian and limbic systems, and any other sensory data. Only then do you have access to a thought-out reaction -- to a reaction from your higher state of consciousness, your thinking brain. In the heat of the moment, which brain segment do you think many people respond from? Sadly, it's not the neocortex.
What can we do about it? More on that soon. First let's get a quick example of what it looks like in the day to day world.
What does the Response Sequence Look Like in Action?
Have you ever seen someone strongly react to a situation that frightened them, and once they knew they were actually safe they burst into tears? Then they may have said something like "Oh I feel silly crying over this; I have no idea why I'm crying!" No? OK, how about this...
Have you ever seen someone strongly react to a situation that totally alarmed them ... and after their initial outburst/reaction, they punched a wall? Shortly after they may say something like "Sorry about that -- I don't know what I was thinking". (To be clear, they weren't thinking.)
Each of those examples give you an indication of what it looks like when when the different segments of our brain kick in, and the order that comes naturally to us. Unless we are truly under threat of an attack, however, it is the least helpful sequence of response! it doesn't have to be that way.
For the auditory learners, we're going to shift from a written experience to an audio experience.
Have You Experienced Feeling Stupid -- Like you can't Think?
This is where an understanding of the segments of your brain and the reaction process gets interesting. Listen here for more information...
How Can This Impact Performance (at home or at work)?
This question speaks to the impact your brain's function can have on the financial health of an organization. Listen here for more information...
It's Clearly a Problem. What can we DO about it?
Not understanding the brain's first response, and not knowing how to (try to) control it, can have an incredibly negative impact on your relationships at home and at work. But there are things you can do to gain more control. Listen here for more information... (mention firing off an email or tweet)